Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Friday 11 May 2018

Thoughts from The Yellow Meeple:- Alien Artifacts

Game: Alien Artifacts

Publisher: Portal Games

Designer: Marcin Senior Ropka, Viola Kijowska

Year: 2017

Alien Artifacts is a 4X-style card game from Portal Games. 4-X games are not a style of game that appeals to me - they're typically big space epics where you Explore, Expand, Exterminate and Exploit over a tabletop for hours on end. However, a streamlined 4X card game sounded much more like my kind of game.

Since Portal Games only release small handful of original English language games each year, I often watch their development intently and enjoyed watching the rapid playtesting and development of Alien Artifacts through Portal's vlogs. Let's find out if it delivers.

Alien Artifacts is an engine building card game for 2-5 players in which you will build ships, develop technologies and explore plants, all in the name of victory points! Each turn you will draw a hand of 3 resource cards. Resources come in 3 colours, plus the yellow wild card and each card gives two options of a number of resources of a certain colour. There are a large number of things you can do on your turn, but most boil down to buying new cards, developing the cards you have bought, activating the cards you have developed or cashing in resources for money. You each have one action per turn and can use a maximum of 2 cards to complete your action.

When you develop a card, you have the option of building it on the logistics side, or on the operational side. For ships, this is the difference between an ongoing ability or a ship that can attack other players or alien ships. For technologies, it is the difference between an in-game point scoring action or an end-game scoring opportunity. For plants, it's the difference between exploiting for additional resource cards, or having ongoing abilities that make the development action easier. These choices often become intertwined, as something you do in the green section of your board will help you with a strategy in the blue section, for example.

One of the main strengths of Alien Artifacts is the speed of play. We’ve played with both two and three players and the one-action per turn limit really makes the game move fast. The only pauses come when someone buys that card you’ve been saving up for, when you might need to take a step back and rethink. I really like how you also have some control over the game length with the way you discard cards and have used this to goof effect to quickly end the game or drag it out to grab the last turn I need.

Alien Artifacts manages to combine complexity and variety into a very simple package. There appear to be a lot of actions at first, but most actions become very similar - either spending two resource cards in a number of different ways, or spending money. More than many other games, where I sometimes spread myself quite thin, I find that you do require a focused path to victory and that this is helped by your faction card and early card draws, with a few tactical steps taking later in the game depending on the availability of cards to buy. In this way I'm typically not favouring a strategy, but am naturally trying out many different strategies, something I'm glad the game guides me towards.

The weakest element of Alien Artifacts is probably the combat – for me it feels like the strategy that involves the most luck for the least reward. In combat, there is always the option of either attacking an opponent or the alien base. In a two-player game, when your opponent has no defence plan then an attack might be worthwhile – it will put them behind by a turn if they have a very powerful scoring card or tech. However, this one urn delay and the chance of a small reward doesn’t seem that great to me and I choose to attack the Alien base every time in the hope of bigger rewards and maybe some powerful Alien Artifacts. In a multi-player game, attacking other players becomes even more problematic because of the choice you have to make about who to attack. It’s easy to attack the player who is ahead, but some strategies are more about in-game points whilst others are about end game points, so the person scoring in-game points can be unfairly attacked, leading to some upset at the table. Overall this doesn’t bother me because there’s so many alternative strategies to explore, that combat doesn’t have to be a focus.

Is Alien Artifacts a 4X game? Who cares? It’s a really strong tableau building card game with some great engine building and tech tree development which is immensely satisfying. It has a space exploration theme and could probably be easily re-themed to something else without changing the game mechanisms, but the three card actions in particular do feel thematic – Exterminating- especially when attacking other players, Exploiting as you get more resources from your planets and technology which doesn’t seem to fit under any of the 4Xs, but does give you some focus toward the end game.

Personally, I love Alien Artifacts as a super clean engine building card game that shines at the 2-player count we often have at home. For the Yellow Meeple, Alien Artifacts is an 8.5/10.

Alien Artifacts was a review copy kindly provided by Portal Games.

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